Chinese media firm hit with $2M fine over a joke
May 22, 2023

The Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau has imposed a hefty penalty of 14.7 million yuan ($2.13 million) on Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media Co, a well-known comedy company in the country. The company has been accused of “harming society” following a military joke made by one of its comedians that sparked strong public criticism.

The Beijing arm of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau announced that it would fine Xiaoguo Culture 13.35 million yuan and confiscate 1.35 million yuan in “illegal gains” from the company. The authorities determined that a recent performance by Li Haoshi, known by his stage name House, had violated regulations.

The Chinese public is engaged in a lively debate over the appropriateness of jokes in stand-up comedy, highlighting the content restrictions in China that prioritize socialist values. Comedian Li Haoshi faced backlash after a joke about the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) went viral on social media. The joke drew a parallel between stray dogs and the PLA’s work ethic, referencing a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping.

The cultural bureau sternly stated, “We will never allow any company or individual to use Chinese platforms to slander the glorious image of the PLA.” As a consequence, Xiaoguo Culture has been banned from organizing future shows in Beijing.
In response to the penalty, Xiaoguo Culture attributed the incident to “major loopholes in management” and revealed that they had terminated Li’s contract. Li himself has not made any public comments, and his account on Weibo, a popular social media platform in China, appears to have been restricted from posting.

Xiaoguo Culture, founded in Shanghai in 2015, has gained popularity alongside China’s growing interest in stand-up comedy. The company has played a crucial role in raising the profiles of numerous local comedians. However, it has faced previous run-ins with authorities. In July 2021, the company was fined 200,000 yuan for publishing advertisements that objectified women, featuring a comedian endorsing a lingerie brand.

The penalty imposed on Xiaoguo Culture reflects the Chinese government’s strict stance on content that is perceived as detrimental to societal values and institutions. As the popularity of stand-up comedy continues to rise in the country, comedians and entertainment companies face the challenge of navigating the boundaries of acceptable humor in China.

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